HOUSTON – Jaime Garcia wasn't ready to pitch Tuesday night. It didn't take long for the St. Louis Cardinals to figure that out.
Garcia was rocked for six runs in two innings in his shortest outing of the season, and the Cardinals found themselves in a hole too deep to escape in a 9-8 loss to the Houston Astros.
Fresh off extra rest after battling soreness in his left elbow, Garcia looked uncomfortable through a pair of innings that proved tumultuous enough to seal the loss and drop him to 0-5 in seven career starts against Houston.
"He's not right," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We had given him some thorough examinations, and we were confident that he would be ready to go, but he obviously wasn't."
Garcia (3-4), who last pitched May 26 in a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia, said he didn't have pain in his elbow but struggled to pinpoint the root of the problem.
"I wish I knew what was wrong. I would have fixed it a while ago," said Garcia, whose career ERA against the Astros ballooned to 8.10. "I'm definitely not in a position where I can go out there and help the team win."
By the time Maikel Cleto relieved him to start the third the Cardinals trailed 6-1 and seemed well on the way to their sixth loss in seven games.
St. Louis managed to make it a game in the top of the ninth.
Adron Chambers hit a clutch two-run triple off Astros right-hander David Carpenter to get the Cardinals within 9-6.
"They jumped out on us today, and we had to fight," Chambers said. "It's just another test for us. We have to come back tomorrow and get them."
Rafael Furcal took closer Brett Myers deep for a one-out, two-run homer after the hit by Chambers to get St. Louis within a run.
Myers then retired Carlos Beltran and later Allen Craig with the tying run at first for his 14th save in 15 chances.
"I love how these guys go about it and they just don't quit," Matheny said of his team. "We keep running out of time, and put (ourselves) in too big a hole. these guys don't die. They don't die in the dugout and they don't quit on the field, and it's all going to pay off. It's just a matter of time."
This one got out of hand quickly for Garcia, whose outing included allowing a leadoff double, back-to-back walks and four runs, one of them on a wild pitch.
And that was just the first inning.
Astros outfielder Justin Maxwell took Garcia deep for a two-run homer in the second inning, and by then the Astros led 6-1.
"I'm struggling right now, and it's tough for me," said Garcia, whose six runs came on five hits. "But at the same time I have to keep moving forward."
Matt Adams blasted a three-run homer off Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell to get the Cardinals within two runs in the third inning.
But other than that, St. Louis enjoyed limited success against Harrell (5-4), who allowed four runs — three earned — on eight hits over six innings for his third win in his last four starts.
St. Louis jumped to an early 1-0 lead in the first after Furcal reached second on a fielding error by Astros second baseman Jose Altuve and scored on a groundout by Matt Holliday.
Altuve more than made up for his gaffe, going 4 for 5 with a pair of doubles and three runs scored for the Astros, who scored three more runs off Cardinals relievers to cap the scoring.
Brian Bogusevic hit a solo home run off reliever Cleto in the fourth, and Altuve scored from second on an errant throw by Sam Freeman in the sixth.
Brett Wallace hit an RBI double on a line drive to right off Victor Marte to score Chris Johnson and make it 9-4 Astros in the seventh.
NOTES: Cardinals 1B Lance Berkman, who has been rehabbing in Houston since undergoing right knee surgery on May 25, was in the St. Louis clubhouse before Tuesday's game. He said he's making progress, but doesn't expect to be back on the field until July. He plans to stay in Houston until at least June 15, when he has a checkup with the doctor who performed the arthroscopic surgery. ... Houston CF Jordan Schafer was out of the starting lineup on Tuesday because of an illness. ... The series continues on Wednesday when Houston's Bud Norris opposes Adam Wainwright.